The 13 men arrested for allegedly plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and possibly spark a new civil war drank an impressive variety of flavors of far-right, fringe Kool Aid.
There was Eric Molitor, a 36-year-old whose Facebook page gushed about 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, the Blue Lives Matter wannabe militiaman accused of killing two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this summer. Molitor now faces state charges of providing material support for terrorist acts and carrying a firearm during the commission of a felony.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, he was also apparently a fan of QAnon, the disturbingly mainstream conspiracy theory “movement” that holds President Trump is quietly, nobly doing battle with a cadre of pedophiles who happen to inhabit the highest levels of the government. The suspect posted the “Save Our Children,” hashtag, a seemingly innocuous cause that has increasingly come to resemble a collective delusion that in some cases has allegedly inspired people to kidnap their own children.
He was also apparently into Three Percenter-style militia activity, which long predates QAnon and is premised around the false idea that 3 percent of Revolutionary War-era colonists fought in that conflict. Three Percenters have been a regular—armed—presence at a slew of violent protests in recent years, the deadly Unite the Rally among them.
Then there’s Brandon Caserta.
As The Detroit News and NBC News reported, the suspect in the federal case against Whitmer’s alleged wannabe kidnappers appeared in at least one video in a Hawaiian shirt, a trademark of the Boogaloo Movement obsessed with sparking the next civil war. Unlike some of your typical far-right militia diehards, this crowd at least sometimes purports to be concerned with law-enforcement excesses, and even take a special interest—as some Michigan suspects allegedly did—in killing cops. Boogaloo members have been arrested or implicated in an array of attacks and schemes in recents months, from an alleged plot to help Hamas to another to destroy federal infrastructure to actual cop killings.
A federal law-enforcement official told NBC News the seven “Wolverine Watchmen” at the center of the state case were Boogaloo affiliated. But the outlet also cited Caserta pivoting swiftly from Joe Rogan fandom to pandemic conspiracy.
If you’re having a tough time keeping track of the various fringe and far-right affiliations here, you’re not alone. The Trump era has long brought out the crazy, but the early indicators are that the Whitmer case was stoked by a sort of witches brew of far-right ideologies that have flourished on his watch. Sure enough, the president actually tweeted half-defensively about the plot against Whitmer late Thursday, insisting he was against “extreme violence” while basically stoking more ire for a governor who has gotten to him like few others.
“This is just another example of how these anti-government groups get agitated and invigorated when you have a president calling them to action,” Daryl Johnson, a former Department of Homeland Security analyst of far-right extremism, told The Daily Beast.
The precise nature of the affiliations of the defendants in the Whitmer saga is still coming into focus. Some of their activity appeared to be little more sophisticated than angry men firing guns and driving their neighbors insane.
“They thought it was a meth house because there was trash blowing all over the place,” one Munith, Michigan, resident who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal said of fellow residents’ impression of a home inhabited by two suspects, Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico, tied to the “Wolverine Watchmen” case. Both are charged with terrorism, gang membership, providing material support for terrorist acts, and firearms felonies.
Social profiles tied to Musico showed interest in everything from bogus memes that white people are being slaughtered in South Africa to far-right Proud Boys to anti-Semitism to Alex Jones.
In other cases, people who knew the suspects struggled to make sense of what they described, at least, as a seemingly rapid descent into radicalization.
“I’m very surprised because he’s just not like that,” R. Miller, a neighbor of 38-year-old state terrorism suspect Shawn Fix, Told The Daily Beast late Thursday, adding, “Maybe [he] got mixed up with the wrong people and that changed his way of thinking.”
As the suspects’ cases proceed, more will inevitably come to light about just how they appear to have become infatuated with far-right violence, and why a pandemic lockdown loathed by millions allegedly drove them to terrorism. What we already know, experts said, is that this climate is incredibly inviting to this sort of fringe descent—and a disturbing run-up to an election widely expected to feature far-right violence is officially underway.
“We’re at a heightened state of risk right now and that’s my greatest concern, that these groups that have been carrying guns to protests end up shooting,” Johnson said.
With reporting by Spencer Ackerman and Tom Perkins